Helmholtz: From Enlightenment to Neuroscience by Michel Meulders

By Michel Meulders

Even supposing Hermann von Helmholtz used to be certainly one of so much impressive figures of nineteenth-century technological know-how, he's little identified outdoors his local Germany. Helmholtz (1821-1894) made major contributions to the examine of imaginative and prescient and notion and was once additionally influential within the portray, track, and literature of the time; one in all his significant works analyzed tone in tune. This ebook, the 1st in English to explain Helmholtz's lifestyles and paintings intimately, describes his clinical reviews, analyzes them within the context of the technology and philosophy of the period--in specific the German Naturphilosophie--and gauges his impact on brand new neuroscience.Helmholtz, educated by means of Johannes Müller, the best physiologists of his time, used a resolutely materialistic and empirical medical technique in his examine. This places him within the culture of Kant and the English empirical philosophers and at once against the idealists and naturalists who interpreted nature according to metaphysical presuppositions. Helmholtz's examine on colour imaginative and prescient positioned him at odds with Goethe's extra romantic theorizing at the topic; yet on the finish of his existence, Helmholtz venerated Goethe's contributions, acknowledging that creative instinct may show truths concerning the human brain which are inaccessible to technological know-how. Helmholtz's paintings, eclipsed in the beginning of the 20 th century through new rules in neurophysiology, has lately been rediscovered through psychologists. They realize in Helmholtz's methods--which have been in accordance with his trust within the interconnectedness of body structure and psychology--the origins of neuroscience.

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53 Furthermore the historian Charles Lichtenthaeler54 did not hesitate, in one of the chapters of his book, to deal with the chaos in medicine in Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century. 57 As in other countries, medicine in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century was striving for scientific coherence, but what differentiated it radically was its allegiance to Schelling’s natural philosophy, which made some sense of its efforts. Of course, before Schelling there was Kant, whose complex message had made a profound impression on scientists in general and physicians in particular.

Novalis, whose real name was Friedrich von Hardenberg, was the emotional image of a poet “hoping for an imminent joyous end,” which indeed he achieved before the age of thirty. 29 The more something was poetic, he said, the more it was real. One needed the simplicity of a child to study nature. With this Novalis established a true charter for natural philosophy as the poetry of nature. It was at Jena, a few kilometers from Weimar, that the originators of romanticism met. In addition to Wilhelm Schlegel and Schelling, both professors at the local university, there were Novalis, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, Friedrich Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck, and others.

This Scottish physician had been impressed by the research of Albrecht von Haller, the renowned Swiss poet, surgeon, and botanist,who taught in Göttingen. The latter had made a distinction between “irritability,” the reaction of living tissues to outside stimulation by a contraction, and “sensitivity,” the property of nerve fibers to evoke pleasure or the contrary. Haller interpreted Brown’s observations very personally, claiming that life was not a natural process and that it only existed as a function of an external stimulus producing an active and lasting reaction.

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